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Her First Palestinian and Other Stories: book review

Nine short stories of the Palestinian diaspora in Toronto

Her First Palestinian and Other Stories

AUTHOR Saeed Teebi
PUBLISHER House of Anansi
GENRE Fiction
RELEASE DATE August 2, 2022
ISBN 978-1487010874

House of Anansi
House of Anansi

It is a rare cloud that has no silver lining.  Think back to the height of the pandemic when we were all locked up, going nowhere and seeing no one except those incarcerated along with us. 

Saeed Teebi, a Toronto lawyer who is Palestinian by heritage, made excellent use of that time.  He began pulling story after story from his imagination about what it is like to be Palestinian in Toronto as a member of a rich culture underpinned by a never-to-be-forgotten sadness.

Or, as one character remarks to another at a country auction in Woodland, the seventh of the nine stories:

‘Stop trying to buy a past that belongs to other people.’

He laughed.  ‘A bit rude to say that to a Palestinian.’

This gentle rebuke, with its nuanced honesty and muted sense of loss, illustrates Teebi’s clarity of understanding.  His prose, wit and humour guide the reader on a journey through nine unusual takes on life within the Palestinian diaspora, as well as providing glimpses into the family lives and rich culture of its members.

In the title story, Her First Palestinian, a doctor teaches his girlfriend about his country only for her to become obsessed with the ongoing conflict.  This story was a finalist in the 2021 CBC Short Story Prize.

In Cynthia, a nervous university student invents a girlfriend in an effort to fit in with his callous, womanizing roommates.

In Do Not Write About The King, a math professor inadvertently risks his family when he slanders the ruler of a never named ‘Kingdom’. 

Teebi was born to Palestinian parents in Kuwait and, after spending time in the United States, moved to Canada in 1993.

This compact volume of nine separate stories was also a finalist for the Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Prize and the Evergreen Award in 2022.

Short stories are often said to be a genre in themselves; prized by some but lacking the popularity of full-length novels. And yet, the short story is one of the oldest forms of literature when you consider ancient legends, mythic and fairy tales.  

What we think of as the modern short story was developed mainly in the 19th century by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, who insisted that one should be able to read a short story in one sitting.  According to Wikipedia, William Faulkner reckoned the job of a short story writer was to "...trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”And let’s not forget that queen of short fiction, Canadian Alice Munro, whose stores conjure up Canada like few writers of long or short fiction.

Perhaps in this age of short attention spans, the idea of finishing a story in one sitting is becoming more appealing.  Certainly, that would seem to be the case judging by the praise lavished on Teebi’s first effort.

Oh, and by the way, the word is he is now working on a novel!